Cartoon – Doctor Who

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Cartoon – 29/4/11

"This isn't for the Royal Wedding. We're celebrating Growth going up 0.5%"

Cartoon – 28/4/11

"It may be boring, but at least it won't steal your bank details"

Cartoon – 27/4/11

"If he wasn't so dreamy, none of this would have happened"

Cartoon – 26/4/11

"Honestly, we've got enough Lords"

Cartoon – 25/4/11

"It's a super-injunction referring to something called 'The Honey Incident'."

Film Review – Submarine

A Bit of An Affectation

It’s with some shock that I realise quite a lot of my favourite films happen to be British. The Third Man, The 39 Steps (both original and Robert Powell remake – ignore the one with Kenneth More), Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Withnail and I, Shaun of the Dead. This is surprising in that it’s not that this country is incapable of producing the odd good film, it’s that there are any at all in the huge amount of sheer garbage. Even during the darkest days of British film production, we were usually making films. It’s just that 99% were bloody awful. We can make good films all right, but when it comes to bad films, we really go out, both in terms of quantity and lack of quality.

All this waffle is just to say, relax. We’ve achieved that magic 1% quota for this decade, and it’s a low budget coming of age tale set in a small town in Wales. Well, it wasn’t going to be a Richard Curtis-inspired romantic comedy, or a mind-numbingly unoriginal gangster film. The director of Submarine is Richard Ayoade, best known as uber-geek Moss from The IT Crowd and Dean Lerner from Garth Merengi’s Darkside but he’s served his time as director of innumerable music videos and TV shows.

Submarine has a darkly subtle visual landscape, niftily straddling the line between comedy and drama, enhanced by striking cuts that could only have come from Ayoade’s extensive TV work (it’s shocking the amount of bad editing there is in films these days – the technology of the modern age has subsumed the real-time immediacy of how films should look). Ayoade has no truck with portraying the ghastly decor-ed 80s world as beautiful but somehow manages to do it anyway.

Craig Roberts (most recently seen as a sickly teen-aged vampire in Being Human) is the focus of the film; a typically self-involved schoolboy. “Most people think of themselves as individuals. That there’s no-one on the planet like them.” So does Roberts. He’s the sort of teen (i.e. all of them) who calmly and rationally considers actions which would appal most people; until remembering they thought exactly the same solipsistic things themselves when they were that age. “I suppose it’s a bit of an affectation, but I often wish there was a film crew following my every move.”

So, he happily dreams of the outpouring of emotion upon his death – and resurrection – and, more realistically, contemplates the best course of action in getting closer to a girl he likes, which involves bullying the class fat girl. Sometimes Roberts is shocked by his own behaviour (as when he pushes the poor fat girl into a muddy pond), mostly not.

The girl he is attracted to Yasmin Paige, an alopecia-sufferer who likes nothing more than to play with matches and delight in the suffering of others. Partly for this latter reason, she succumbs to Roberts’s overtures, although she makes it perfectly clear that she’s not doing it for altruistic reasons. Their first kiss is made underneath a railway bridge, with her surprising him by waiting until a train roars noisily overhead and capturing his goofy surprise with a Polaroid camera. With his self-obsession and her mean-spirited tolerance of those around her, it’s clear that these two may not be all that made for each other. The film wisely avoids the possibility that they’re destined to live happily ever after.

For a start there is his effort to lose his virginity; a cringe-making scene where he waits until his parents have gone out before arranging the house to resemble something out of a 70s edition of Playboy magazine. “To us, and a wonderful evening of lovemaking,” he toasts, across an overly-dressed dinner table.

Paige reacts predictably: “Fucking hell you’re a serial killer.” She runs out of the house, before turning the tables – as with the kiss – and sleeping with him more to just fuck with his head. But Roberts is exactly the sort of teenager to not appreciate what he’s got, and when he finally peers behind her jaggedly foreboding exterior and discovers that her mother may not be long for this world, he utterly fails to be there for her.

Ostensibly this is because he’s got problems of his own. His home life with his marine biologist father (Noah Taylor, with a beard so scraggy it could ask for spare change on its own) and housewife mother (Sally Hawkins, almost unrecognisable under a Princess Di-like feather cut) is as boring as it gets. His Dad’s reaction to discovering his son has a girlfriend is both quietly delighted (“Well done. It’s an achievement, of sorts.”) and fatalistic, as when he hands over a mix tape of songs to continue wooing Paige. “I’ve also included some break-up songs, towards the end. Just in case.”

In such an inescapably stifling world, Roberts deigns to make his own dramas. He gets the perfect fuel for his dramatizing fires with the arrival of Paddy Considine, chewing the scenery as a leather-clad, mullet-driven inspirational speaker full of generalized banalities (“I think light is probably the most important gift we have from the universe”) who moves in nearby with his exotic girlfriend and shows unwarranted interest in his mother.

Faced with the apathy of his father, the boredom of his mother and a leather-clad Lothario getting her hot and bothered, the constantly observing (okay, spying) Roberts sticks his nose where it’s not wanted. He corners his mother. “Me and dad discussed it and we both want to make this marriage work. Are you with us?” Meanwhile, he ignores his supposed girlfriend’s unfamiliar cries for help, thereby losing her and belatedly realised that a Considine-shaped idiot is exactly what his parents needed. This provides the funniest line of the film, as Hawkins forthrightly admits, “it’s alright, I just went to his van and gave him a hand job”.

All’s right with the world, except Paige now wants nothing to do with him and Roberts realises that he actually loves her. Or is it just an image he loves, of him running to her across a beach and her turning around and him realising that it’s someone completely different? Roberts like his arty French cinema, with their meaningful gestures of loss, which Ayoade cleverly co-opts and subverts. Things may work out all right for Roberts and Paige but you’re fairly sure that they’ll both grow out of their very teenage obsessions with things like death and pyromania. And possibly each other.

Submarine is a great British film in that it’s not quite what you’d expect it to be. Whilst funny in its unflinching depiction of misery-stoked teenage life, it’s also unashamedly cinematic, lingering lovingly in its portrayal of a beautifully ugly Welsh industrial town (“I took her to my favourite industrial estate”) and echoing on those other teenage angst-fests such as Catcher in the Rye or The Graduate. It doesn’t exactly celebrate teenage life but it reflects its joys and pains and absurdities beautifully. And, like most of the films mentioned at the top of this review, it’s unlikely to be a huge success. Britain can do the very rare good film, and it can also do the very rare financially successful film. It’s exceptionally rare that they would be both. It’s a wonder we make films at all.

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